Skip to main content Accessibility help
  • Print publication year: 2005
  • Online publication date: February 2010

8 - Grammatical features of Afro-Hispanic language



This chapter will focus on particular grammatical structures among African languages and possible substratum influences in Afro-Iberian speech. The list of possible transfers is nearly endless, and yet among creole languages worldwide only a relatively small handful of syntactic patterns are typically implicated in substratum transfer. Overall configurations such as word order, together with specific constructions involving negation, interrogation, topicalization, definiteness marking, pluralization, and copular predicates are among the leading venues in which the action of substratum languages may be sought.

General word order among African and Afro-Iberian languages

When full argumental noun phrases (NPs) are involved, the majority of African languages that interacted with Spanish and Portuguese are head-initial SVO (subject-verb-object) languages, meaning that objects follow prepositions and verbs, and complementizers such as that/que come at the beginning of the clauses they introduce. A proportionately smaller number of languages exhibit SOV (subject-object-verb) order, with some being head-final/postpositional. Some languages appear to be in transition from one word order pattern to another. Few African languages depart drastically from one of these two canonical patterns, although alternative word orders are common in constructions involving focus and topicalization, relativization, interrogation, etc. According to Heine (1976:23–24), who surveyed some 300 African languages, 95 percent have S-V order in intransitive sentences; in transitive sentences, the proportions are 71 percent SVO, 24 percent SOV, and 5 percent VSO. If the subject is pronominal, 94 percent of the languages place the pronoun preverbally.

Related content

Powered by UNSILO